Posts Tagged Trump

Our Words Hold the Power to Bring Life or Death

My friend said to his mother, “Don’t worry about it. They are just words.”

In fact, she was right to worry. She was concerned about the wording changes in her church’s by-laws. Words that reeked of exclusion and fear.

She had prayed fervently that the ugliness that was sweeping through churches nationwide would not touch her church, but it did.

Words are never just words. Our words are sacred. When we were endowed with the power of speech, God gave us the power to bless or to wound others with our words.

The psalmist prayed that not only “the words of my mouth” but also “the meditations of my heart” would be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14).

Similarly, the Greeks used the word logos to mean words spoken as well as words formed in the brain but not yet spoken.

Words spoken and/or heard become part of our nervous system. They may stimulate an immediate response, or they may lie dormant for years.

Words are never just words. They carry with them the power of life or death.

Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are the most powerful drugs used by man.”

The U.S. has been tragically reminded of how destructive words can be when they are weaponized by someone with evil intent.

Our democracy was threatened when a mob set out to overthrow our government. It seems that some were actively looking for certain officials whom they intended to harm.

Some in the mob shouted, “Hang Mike Prince.” Others cried out ominously, “Naaaaancy. Oh, Naaaaancy.” Thankfully, they did not succeed in finding either.

Many police officers were injured, and one was killed. There was much destruction to our Capitol and the business of the Congress was delayed.

The former president of the United States is a master politician and showman.

He understands the power of words especially when the same inflammatory words are repeated day after day, week after week and month after month. He is skilled at name-calling and character assignation.

With his words, he has been successful in undermining the press, the scientific community, the intelligence service, the FBI and the CDC. He has mastered the art of destructive speech.

Most heinous of all, he succeeded in turning citizen against citizen. This clearly demonstrates why words are never just words.

With his acquittal in the second impeachment hearing, former President Trump was not held accountable for the manner in which he (mis)used his freedom of speech leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

There is something to be learned from all of this: Our words are a sacred trust.

We have the power of creation with our words. We can create a better world one person at a time.

We can speak words of encouragement, hope and caring. We can build each other up and help create a more harmonious environment. We can create community.

We can search for leaders whose speech is more uplifting. So much of political programming on the radio and television is toxic, as are political campaigns.

No, we do not live in a Hallmark world and finding those who model healthy speech is not easy, but it is worth the effort.

As a follower of Christ, even more troubling is the reality that so many Christian leaders sacrificed their ideals in order to be associated with the former president.

They have done great harm to their reputations and to their calling. They have encouraged many of their followers to choose a darker path.

Their actions mocked the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).

I believe that the attack on our Capitol is the worst calamity of my lifetime because it was not committed by a foreign power. It was committed by my fellow Americans at the urging of the former president.

Our words are important. Our words are powerful.

Let us use them wisely, so that they bring life not death.

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Freedom of Speech Is Not the Absence of Responsibility – Mitch Randall

 Søren Kierkegaard once quipped, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

The Danish philosopher and theologian provides us with an accurate backdrop for the terrifying events that unfolded on January 6 in Washington D.C.

Insurrectionists, inspired by former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of a stolen, fraudulent election and his fiery speech on Jan. 6, broke into the U.S. Capitol, killing police officer Brian Sicknick.

Before the former president’s term ended, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached the president for a second time, stating, “Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

This week, at the former president’s second impeachment trial, the term “freedom of speech” is being cited frequently by his lawyers and supporters as they argue for his acquittal by the U.S. Senate.

Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president cannot be held accountable for his speech because it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right for all U.S. citizens, Trump’s argument fails at the point of honest assessment and application.

Without getting lost in the woods of legal jargon, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that freedom of speech can be limited for several reasons:

  • Inciting actions that would harm others (Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 1919).
  • Making or distributing obscene materials (Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 1957).
  • Burning draft cards as an anti-war protest (United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 1968).

The court recognizes that words are extremely important in a free society. Words define. Words inspire. Words incite.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right, it is not absolute. As former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.”

Freedom is not the absence of responsibility. On the contrary, freedom relies on both personal and social responsibility.

As individuals, we have the responsibility to utilize speech for the common good. As a just society, we have the responsibility to protect the rights of all citizens, especially when the tension of rights is present.

Over his 29 years on the bench, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) wrote extensively on freedom of speech.

Holmes engineered the “Clear and Present Danger” test to guide his opinions regarding freedom of speech. He wrote in Schenck v United States (1919), “Whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

Holmes’ “Clear and Present Danger” test was replaced in the 1950s by the “Preferred Position Doctrine.” This doctrine acknowledged a hierarchy of constitutional rights, noting that some freedoms garner preference over others.

Interpreting constitutional rights and freedoms through this lens ushered in a new understanding of individual liberties and civil rights.

For example, can a citizen use speech to discriminate against another citizen? Can a shopkeeper cite freedom of speech as a defense for hanging a “Whites Only” sign on their front door?

As one can witness, constitutional freedoms are not always absolute. There are instances when a “preferred position” of rights must intervene, establishing one right over another.

Therefore, as Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president’s speech is constitutionally protected, an important question begs to be asked: “Why is the former president’s right to free speech more important than Officer Brian Sicknick’s right to live?”

It’s not.

While freedom of speech is an essential component to a thriving democracy, when a citizen uses speech to incite violence against another citizen, then the latter’s right to live outweighs the former’s right to speak.

More so, citizens must begin to realize that freedom of speech does not divorce a person from responsibility. Actions, even when they are merely words, have consequences.

We would all do well to follow Kierkegaard’s advice to think before speaking, but we would also do well to follow the urging of James 3:5-6 and tame our tongues.

Mitch Randall headshot

CEO of Good Faith Media.

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I’ll get to hope. For now, I need to sit in the ashes and mourn – Susan Shaw


If you often find yourself uninspired by online church services, yelling at the nightly news on TV or just generally cranky over all the unjustified optimism about reopening the United States economy, this is for you. Rather than serving up more sunniness and positivity, I offer a lament.

As I’ve watched Christians leap to Bible verses about hope and share words of support and cheer on social media, I have at times felt like the Eastertide equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. Bah, humbug! I am not encouraged by images of neighborhoods cheering healthcare workers or inspirational stories about recovery from the virus. Upbeat Facebook posts just annoy me. I don’t want to have a virtual cocktail hour huddled with others around our computer screens or listen to another church choir sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” while individually sheltering in place.

“We need to mourn and rage and contemplate what led us to this moment.”

I have been trying over the last month to make sense of my reaction, my absolute rejection of a seemingly endless number of attempts to help me feel better about the situation in our world. I’ve realized that in reaching for hope beyond the pandemic, we may be trying to avoid the hard step in between pandemic and normalcy (whatever that becomes) – namely, grief. Raw, unadulterated grief and, at least for me, its attendant rage.

The scope of devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States was largely preventable. If we had been blessed with competent, responsible and empathetic leadership in the White House, if President Donald Trump and his administration had acted six weeks sooner (or even one week sooner), if we had universal healthcare, if we had a guaranteed minimum income and living wages, if our political leaders had listened to the scientists and pandemic experts – the horrific levels of death and disaster could have been mitigated.

Instead, we must now live with the consequences of our collective choices.

Before we rush to hope, I think we first need to sit for a while in the ashes. We need to mourn and rage and contemplate what led us to this moment.

We know that COVID-19 disproportionately affects the most vulnerable. We also know it has disproportionately spread in communities of color. The impact of the novel coronavirus is yet another consequence of our long national history of white supremacy.

We know that the poor and economically vulnerable feel most deeply the economic impact of the pandemic. This is the consequence of our embrace of an unbridled capitalism that has left so many people behind even as it has multiplied the vast wealth of a few.

We know the U.S. government knew about the pandemic as early as January when the World Health Organization sent out alerts, and yet the president chose to minimize the risk, to suggest any criticism of his refusal to act was a Democratic hoax and eventually to offer up the WHO as a scapegoat in a stunning act of cynicism and cruelty. This is the consequence of Americans’ choice to elect a greedy, selfish, incompetent and amoral narcissist who over the past month has been more concerned with the ratings for his daily televised press briefings than the health and welfare of the citizens he was elected to serve and to protect – especially those who are the most vulnerable.

We know that a faction of the evangelical church has made things worse by defying stay-at-home orders and minimizing the danger of the virus, as if all we need to do is pray the pandemic away. This is the consequence of the choice of a bloc of white evangelical leaders and voters to become nothing more than a wing of the Republican Party and to sell its soul to the cult of Trumpism.

So, before we move to hope, we need to sit for a while in the ashes of democracy and the evangelical church.

To be clear, I’m not pondering the why of all this suffering. I’m not asking why bad things happen. I’ve come to terms with the intellectual question of human suffering. Sometimes bad things happen because we live in a world with earthquakes and tornadoes and deadly viruses. Bad things also happen because people commit evil acts.

This pandemic is not a theological crisis. It’s a moral one. And we would do well in this moment to take the prophet Jeremiah’s advice: “Because of this put on sackcloth, lament and howl” (4:8, NRSV).

“Sometimes, despite our best efforts, evil wins. Perhaps for now we should just sit with that a while.”

We need to mourn. We can’t just jump right to hope. People are dead. In the United States alone, nearly 60,000 – SIXTY THOUSAND – people have died from confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a monstrous figure that is both certain to be higher than the reported total and that will continue to climb. Like Job’s children, they are dead, and new children don’t make up for the ones who died.

We can’t gloss over their suffering or their families’ suffering as if death is not real. Sometimes Christians treat death that way. They deal with their grief by jumping to resurrection without making space to mourn real loss. In this pandemic people have died needlessly, especially those who were already marginalized and vulnerable – the very people for whom Jesus had greatest compassion.

We need to sit with that loss and its utter futility. So many did not have to die. This is the consequence of our choices.

We also need to mourn that so many people in the U.S. think vulnerable people are dispensable for the sake of the economy. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, an outspoken evangelical, suggested grandparents would be willing to die to save the economy. A few weeks later, he underscored his stance, saying, “there are more important things than living.”

We must mourn who we have become as a culture. Mary Oliver warned us in her poem, “Of the Empire”:

We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

As a culture and a nation, we are mean – and a number of conservative Christians are leading the pack in meanness, particularly in the face of COVID-19. R.R. Reno of the conservative Christian website, “First Things,” warns about the “sentimentalism” of trying to save lives. “There are many things more precious than life…. There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost.”

I can’t imagine that the biblical notion of laying down your life for your friends includes laying it down for the capitalist economy.

I recognize that many progressive Christians have tried to do the right things. We’ve voted our convictions, written our legislators, protested, stayed at home, worn masks and donated to churches, nonprofits like Feeding America and other organizations trying to help the most vulnerable. Perhaps for us, that makes our grief and rage even greater. No wonder we often feel hopeless.

Some might find this lament to be unchristian in its despair and fury. I think sometimes Christians believe that it’s not OK for us to mourn and be furious. We’re supposed to be positive and optimistic, to live in the hope of the resurrection. But even Jesus grieved at Gethsemane and on the cross. We gloss over that sometimes. We think Jesus knew the end of the story and so somehow his suffering wasn’t quite real. But I think when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” there was no hope, no resurrection in his heart and mind. There was overwhelming grief and doubt and suffering.

“I can’t imagine that the biblical notion of laying down your life for your friends includes laying it down for the capitalist economy.”

Rather than jumping right to hope and resurrection, I think we would do well to follow the advice of the prophets and “take up a lamentation.” Or the poet Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Suffering and death are not always meaningful. Sometimes it’s just death; sometimes it’s unjust, unnecessary and unwarranted.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, evil wins. Perhaps for now we should just sit with that a while in sackcloth and ashes.

I’ll get to hope. I’ll get to resistance and radical love and a vision of God’s beloved community to come. But not today. Today I just need to sit here and mourn.

Read more BNG news and opinion related to the coronavirus pandemic:





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Whose ‘principles of faith’ are being manifested on Trump’s watch?


White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney declared at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this week that faith drives the Trump administration’s policy proposals, arguing that “the principles of our faith (are) being manifest” under the president’s watch. My shock threshold is high, but I reeled when I read Mulvaney’s remarks. As a Christian and a theologian, I believe the torrent of hateful words, brinkmanship executive orders, racist dog whistles, sexist behavior, malignant deceit and national idolatry are uneasily linked with anything we might call Christian.

Yet President Donald J. Trump’s popularity with evangelical Christians persists, and to their delight, he consistently says things out loud that they think but – with a few notable Baptist pastors among the exceptions – are too self-protective to say.

“When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity.”

Last month, Pew Research Center found that Trump had a 69 percent approval rating among white evangelical Protestants, compared to around 40 percent among all Americans. This is astonishing. Indeed, the willingness of Trump’s base to overlook the absence of a moral compass, much less Christian values and practice, only seems to grow with each passing month. With Trump’s judicial appointments and a flurry of policy changes and legislative proposals, moral traditionalists see their ends-justifies-the-means long game coming into view. For this, they will put up with reckless leadership that cares little for an authentic Christian theological vision for life.

In one sense, I concur with Mulvaney’s statement. The “principles of faith” that drive the Trump administration and its Republican sycophants in Congress are, indeed, manifest. But the principles on my list are different.

One clear principle is xenophobia, fearing and reviling the stranger, which is a stark contradiction of a prominent biblical theme. Welcoming the stranger is a way of remembering God’s providence in the life of an insignificant people; it is also a way of being enriched by holy presence. A corollary principle regularly manifested is racism, as we witnessed when Trump referred to nations where persons of color predominate with an epithet.

Immigration policies reflect both of these principles. Honoring every person as created after God’s likeness, bearing the image of God, is absent from the insulting rhetoric employed and actions taken.

Egregious in its impact, another principle is protecting the rich at the expense of the poor. The Bible’s prophetic literature and the ministry and teachings of Jesus accent justice for the poor and warn of judgment upon the rich who will be “sent away empty.” Current tax law is a windfall for those who least need it. The widows and orphans of our day are ground underfoot in wage disparity, lack of educational privilege and shrinking access to varied health and social services.

“Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual.”

Similarly, the attempts to marginalize sexual minorities are growing. LGBTQ rights are in the cross-hairs, and for the foreseeable future case after case will wind its way through the appellate system on the way to the Supreme Court. A conservative majority will be predisposed to beat back recent gains as this central issue draws untoward attention in the current culture war. Clearly the New Testament makes space in the reign of God for non-traditional expressions of human sexuality, as the story of the Ethiopian eunuch attests.

Incessant saber-rattling and projected military growth ignore the biblical admonition to “be at peace with all, so far as it depends upon you” (Romans 12:18). Threats to bomb nations into oblivion go far beyond national security; these bellicose words are more about presidential swagger. Even the attempts at negotiation with other nations are so full of ego that every encounter is a win-lose drama rather than a genuine pursuit of common ground. Further, the “America first” quest arises from a distorted doctrine of exceptionalism, which includes claiming divine preference for national interests.

Policies that roll back environmental protection also defy God’s directive to humanity to care for this creation as God’s own representatives. Demonstrating an incomprehensible, dismissive attitude toward the consensus of climate scientists worldwide and the dire warnings from the United Nations and other international bodies – namely, that environmental disaster looms unless radical action is taken in the next two decades – this administration is accelerating its support of destructive practices. The unwillingness to curtail pollution of the atmosphere, to participate in global environmental accords or to prevent rampant oil and gas drilling and fracking, are having a deleterious effect. These profligate actions are tantamount to humanizing the eschaton, i.e., bringing about the destruction of the earth.

Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual. While in humility Christ Jesus gave power away, the current president presumes to be the final arbiter on most matters of governance in our system of democracy. With Caesar-like imperiousness, this administration claims a kind of sovereignty that eschews bowing the knee to any higher authority.

When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity. The very heart of authentic faith is knowing the gap between what God’s righteousness calls us to do and what we actually do. Forgiveness is that shattering experience that acknowledges our sinfulness and the grace of God that draws us near.

Mercy, justice and humility are the marks of authentic Christianity. I see none of these in the principles of faith by which the president of the United States operates. Indeed, the only thing worse than the failure or refusal of people of faith to see this reality is to remain silent.

*Rev.Dr. Molly Marshall spoke twice at the Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston. She is a congregation favorite.



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